Peace campaigners killed on mercy mission to Gaza

At least 10 people were killed and many injured yesterday, after Israeli troops stormed a flotilla of boats in international waters, carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. It is believed 28 British citizens were on board one of the boats. The Foreign Office says they are not among the dead.

The six ships, carrying about 10,000 tonnes of aid and up to 700 passengers on six vessels, were warned not to pass an Israeli sea blockade.

The activists were on their way to Gaza from Cyprus on a mission designed to draw attention to the three-year-old Israeli blockade of the territory. Israel imposed the restrictions after Hamas was elected to power. Israel prohibits travel to and from the narrow strip of land, which is home to one and half million people, bans exports, and restricts the entry of basic goods, including some medicines, food and fuel.

Human rights groups describe the blockade as 'collective punishment'  and have repeatedly urged Israel to re-open the crossings into and out of the territory.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said he deplored the loss of life. He said: "We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations."

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he regretted the loss of life, but that force had been used in self defence after the peace activists had attacked the soldiers who came on the ship.

The UN Security Council has started an emergency session to discuss the crisis. Many countries have called in their Israeli ambassadors to express their concern.

Shadow foreign secretary David Miliband condemned the "futile loss of civilian lives" and stressed the urgent need to address the humanitarian situation.

He said: "The humanitarian suffering in Gaza is completely unjustified and self defeating for all those concerned with political progress in the Middle East.

"I have also taken the opportunity to point out, having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw."

The World Council of Churches has called for a week of prayer for peace in the region.

Source: WCC/PSC

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